Ground loops, loose connections, and interference are among the most common causes of buzzing sounds from speakers. We’ll start with diagnosing the problem first to save you time in the repair job.
Diagnose Speaker Buzz – What to Look For
Check the Connections
Speaker connections are fairly forgiving. By that, I mean they will usually work–to some extent–even when dirty or not connected perfectly. It could be that the buzz you hear is a loose or improperly seated connection. Make sure your connections are tight. All of them. In every port, including the power cords.
Try turning the speakers down. If you hear a buzzing from the speakers with nothing playing, the master volume may be turned too high. Reducing the volume may eliminate the noise. If so, your buzzing may not be the speakers, but possibly the amplifier or the sound source. It may be a sign you are trying to pump too much power through the speakers.
Ground loops are one of the most common causes of buzzing speakers. And one of the easiest problems to set up. Inadvertently. Simply stated a ground loop occurs when two, or more pieces of your entertainment system are plugged into different AC electrical outlets, then connected together with electrical cable such as HDMI, composite, etc. which have shielding connected to the ground. This creates a single loop antenna that sucks noise into your system. One other cause of ground loop could be your coax cable if you are connected to the TV or video recorder because these cables quite often have their own grounding system. Disconnect it to check out buzz or lack of buzz.
Ground loop buzz can be identified by the 120 Hertz buzz. If you have, or have access to, a multimeter like the Fluke 87V you can measure the output of your buzz and save looking for a ground loop problem when it is an unbalanced wire (60 Hertz) problem.
Note: Good professional-grade multimeters can cost hundreds of dollars. I do not know if spending that kind of money to help locate speaker buzz is the best investment. And I do not know if the cheap ones will produce an accurate result.
Damaged speakers also tend to be high on the list of buzzing causes. Speakers consist of many parts including a diaphragm and a sealant ring. Damage to the diaphragm, which is usually made of paper, nylon, or thin plastic, can cause the buzzing noise you hear. Remove the speaker cover to find the tear, or to make sure there is no tear. Be patient. Diaphragm tears can be hard to find. Play music while looking for it. The tear should open up as the diaphragm vibrates. It may also help to wet the diaphragm with a damp cloth to make finding the damage easier.
While you have the speaker apart, make sure you check the sealant ring for damage. Ring damage can also give you that buzzing sound. (This may sound dumb, but make sure you are dealing with the correct speaker by moving the balance to left or right while listening. Not much point in tearing apart a speaker and looking for damage, only to discover it is in the other unit.)
Much of the modern electrical equipment we burden ourselves with have frequencies that can interfere with each other. If your entertainment center has buzzing speakers beside TV, computer, cell phone, Roku, VHS/CD player (like I do), Alexa, and who knows what else that may be causing signal problems, you will have to unplug, disconnect, or move them one at a time while your speakers are working to find which one is causing the buzz. And if none of those are the problem, it could even be your baby monitor, fluorescent lights that are wearing out, even a hairdryer. Especially if you are using Bluetooth or WiFi which runs on 2.4 GHz just like your land line and other electrical equipment in your house.
Audio Inputs & Speaker Cables
Many, if not most, wired speakers are vulnerable to speaker buzz. To check if this is causing your problem, change cables and inputs to see if the buzzing stops. Change them one at a time. Otherwise, you will just confuse things, by having a bunch of wires disconnected at one time. And not knowing which one was causing the buzz.
If you are hearing a constant 60 Hertz buzz from the speakers–whether something is playing or not–you may have unbalanced cables. These cables have 2 wires in them–signal carrying wire and ground wire. If the ground wire does not provide adequate shielding, you will have a buzz from the output (speaker) end.
Stop the Speaker Buzz
Now that you have found the problem, or problems, get them fixed. Some problems are fairly easy to fix; some will take a little more time and effort.
Please note that many speaker buzz problems and fixes can run together. For instance, the Fix the Connections section can easily be part of the Speaker Cable section. With that in mind, it is best to treat speaker buzz detection and repairs as a whole rather than approach it in a piecemeal fashion.
Fix the Connections
Check every cable, wire, and plug connection to make sure they are clean and seated properly. Pull them out, clean the ports with a Q-tip, maybe with a small drop of alcohol, clean the cable ends, and plug them back in. Make sure they are firmly seated. (I remove and replace cables one at a time because I like them in the correct place.)
I know that this seems trivial and unnecessary, but keep in mind that speakers are moved to clean or be repositioned. Or you are blessed with pets and/or kids intrigued by all that stuff and just need to play with it. At the very least, checking your connections occasionally eliminates that possibility.
Adjust the Volume
Hearing a buzz when there is nothing playing probably means your amplifier is pushing background noise through the speakers. Because that is its job–taking a low level signal and pushing it through your speakers to create sound. If the amplifier is not receiving an input signal, it will still carry any background noise to the speaker.
A powerful amplifier turned up to maximum will use all of its power to get sound out of the speakers. Turning it down to less than 75% while turning the speakers up could eliminate the background buzz and give you better, cleaner sound.
The likely reason for this is that your speakers are not capable of handling the amount of power your amplifier is producing. Turning the amp down will eliminate the buzz, creating a temporary cure. But at some point, if you want to replace speakers or amp, you should sync the speaker power requirements with the amplifier power production.
Fix the Ground Loop
Not only is a ground loop easy to create; it is usually easy to fix. There are 2 ways to go about this. Actually, 3 ways depending on the cause.
- Plug your entire system into one AC outlet using a single power bar, surge protector or power block. This will almost invariably solve the buzzing problem by creating one ground point. Virtually any 15 amp circuit will handle your entire multimedia setup without overloading.
- Occasionally it is impossible to get all of the cords to one plug to get rid of the ground loop. If this is your situation, here are a few options you can consider. You can substitute self-powered speakers and sub-woofers for the equipment you have. You can rip out the grounding prong from the power cord which will eliminate the ground loop. This is an extremely stupid option and could qualify you as a candidate for the Darwin Awards. DON’T DO IT! For a fairly final reason not to remove the ground pin, see Leslie Harvey – Wikipedia. Or you can buy a hum eliminator like the Ebtech Hum X if there is no way to use an extension cord to get you to the same electrical outlet. Alternatively, if you have a soldering iron and a little talent, there are many YouTube videos showing you how to make a hum eliminator. (Way above my pay grade.)
- If the buzzing is caused by an Over-the-Air antenna, video camera, or coax cable setup, you can change the system to eliminate the ground loop, or buy a ground loop isolator for coax (antenna and TV) cables and install it into the line. (Note: This usually only becomes a problem if your sound system is hooked up to the TV speakers.)
How to Repair a Blown Speaker
Generally, blown speakers are caused by 1 of 2 things–too much power, or way too much power being pushed through the speakers by the amplifier. Both cause the cone to move farther and/or faster than it was designed to move. This will eventually tear it. There is also wear and tear on speakers. They get older and more brittle, so the power you can push through speakers when new is not necessarily the power they will handle a few years later.
Once you are certain that your speaker diaphragm is torn, you have a few choices:
- Replace the speaker. This is probably the best option if you were planning to do it anyway. If not, you can fix it.
- Take the speaker to an audio shop for repair. This probably only makes financial sense if the tear is huge, and the speaker is expensive.
- Repair the tear yourself. This is quite likely the most used option. It is inexpensive, relatively simple, and quick. You can also buy replacement speaker cones, Bluecell Speaker Surround Rings, and most other parts from the manufacturer or generic parts from outlets like Amazon. Including speaker repair kits.
Note: If you have to buy and replace anything more than a cone or ring, you should at least consider buying a new speaker. Speaker reconditioning kits can cost upwards of $50.00. This is probably a reasonable option if you laid out a lot of money for speakers. (Note: Being an old curmudgeon, it is my opinion you do not need an expensive speaker to listen to rap. It will not sound any good regardless of how much you spend on speakers.)
Blown Speaker Repair Hints
- Clean the Speaker. Now that you have isolated the buzzing speaker, you need to have access to it. You will need to remove the cloth/mesh covering, or the metal/plastic covering, or whatever else is there to protect the speaker. Once you have the speaker out, clean it well. Use a soft damp cloth or if you really need to clean it–use alcohol on the cloth and Q-tips if necessary. There may be years of dust and dead bugs in there. Not only will clean work better when you get it back together, it will be easier to repair. (Glue does not stick well to dust.)
- Small Tears. For a relatively small tear in the cone, rubber cement is the answer. Spread a small amount thinly and evenly over the tear. Make sure you spread it around the tear to give it some strength. Let it dry, and try the speaker. If at all possible, apply cement to the other side of the cone over the tear.
- Large Tears. A larger tear, where you have blown a flap out of the cone, requires a patch. For this repair, you will require Elmer’s Wood Glue (or Gorilla Glue) and a coffee filter. (Note: You can use almost any type of tissue-like paper but coffee filters are strong, absorbent, and easy to work with.) A small medium-stiff brush will also help. Mix the glue one part water to 3 parts glue. Hold the torn flap together and glue the gap. Several times, if necessary. Tear the coffee filter to extend 1/4″ – 1/2″ past the tear on all sides. Soak your patch in the glue, apply it to the cone, smooth it out and let it dry. Follow the same procedure to apply a patch on the other side of the cone–if possible. (Note: Torn patch edges will adhere better than scissor-cut edges.)
- Ring Repairs. If the foam surround ring is torn, you will have to buy a replacement. Small nicks and tears can be repaired with a touch of clear silicone sealant rubbed into the nick. Silicone remains flexible. Some rings come with glue and brush included, giving you everything you need to install the new ones. The Bluecell Speaker Rings do not have glue but are available in many sizes. The toughest part of this is removing the old ring and glue. (Nail polish remover or isopropyl alcohol cut to 70% strength should get the old glue out.) The new rings can be glued in place with Gorilla Glue or Contact Cement. (I like contact cement but be warned that with good cement you only get one crack at putting the ring in place; once it is in place, it stays there.)
Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) can be caused by all of the items I have listed above and many more including our &$+?#@ microwave, emergency vehicles driving past your house, etc. It kind of goes on and on. Once you have disconnected and reconnected all the different devices close to your speakers that may be causing interference, you should know which one, or ones, are the problem. The easiest solution is to move them away from the speakers to eliminate the problem.
If that does not solve the problem, give some consideration to buying Peinoy RFI Noise Filter Cable Rings. These are nifty little ferrite filled pods that snap around your cables to shield them from RFI. The 20 piece package contains multiple sizes to fit around different sized cables and reduce electromagnetic interference and improve signal integrity. A quick and easy resolution to the problem that might save you throwing the microwave through the window.
Sort out Audio Inputs & Speaker Cables
Virtually all of the cables involved with your entertainment center, regardless of size, are insulated. It is normal to assume that this insulation will eliminate interference. Unfortunately, that assumption is usually incorrect. The cables are insulated to keep power from shorting out, to prevent the user from shorting out, and to shield them from interference.
Something as simple as your power source wire lying on top of your speaker wire can produce enough Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) to give you that buzzing noise coming from the speakers.
Input and speaker cables are made up of bundles of tiny wires woven together–not one honking big copper wire you can use to tow your truck. So, when one, or more of the small wires get broken–usually close to an end–the cable will not carry the full amount of electricity required to the speakers which can cause buzzing. Gently move the wire at each end while playing something just loud enough to enable you to hear the buzz. If the buzzing stops, or gets worse, your cable is damaged.
If you are a real audiophile, you can probably peal the cable back, cut it shorter, and re-attach the end in your sleep. But if you tend to be better with a hammer and prybar (like me), you are probably way better off just buying new speaker cables, which are not expensive and in some cases, will be better than the originals.
There are 2 solutions to the unbalanced wire problem.
- Replace your Cables. Buy new cables that are labelled ‘balanced’ cables. These cables have 3 wires in them instead of only 2 wires. Because of the polarity of the 2 signal carrying wires, these cables will eliminate the buzz.
- Get a Di-Box. A Di-Box is an inline device that makes unbalanced cables act like balanced cables to eliminate the buzz from the speakers.
Fixing the Connections is fairly near and dear to me. A couple of weeks ago I hooked up a remote speaker to the TV/monitor/computer and all I got was ugly howling noise. After trying every possible output and input and cable configuration I found that pushing the cable all the way in–tightly–fixed the problem–instantly. I need a sign saying: CAUTION – TECHNOLOGICAL DINOSAUR AT WORK.
As I am writing this, it is becoming more obvious that I could be my own worst enemy. Given the tangle of power wires, satellite wire, HDMI cables, speaker wire, and who knows what else living behind, and under my computer desk. Not to mention the other stuff attached to, or hooked up close to, the TV. Chances are that all would work better if I cleaned it up some.